Friday 24 December 2010

No Deal Today It Seems

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching and waiting for news today on the takeover front. And it looks like they’ve finally all decided to head off for Christmas without everything quite signed and sealed (just where is their sense of priority?). According to the club site, the acquisition is at an “advanced stage”, with Richard Murray commenting that “we expect to make a more substantive statement very soon”. So, the pre-Xmas notional deadline seemingly hasn’t been met, but there’s no reason to read anything into it. There’s no indication of problems, the weather may have interfered with planned meetings, and aside from keeping to the previously indicated date it really doesn’t matter whether it’s done today or next week (unless of course Dennis has something booked for new year – and no, I don’t have any idea if he is involved; and yes, like everyone else I hope he isn’t).

Maybe there will still be some announcement at the Southampton game, if it goes ahead (although the Walsall programme still brings a wry smile to my face: inside front page news story about the takeover confirming the details released but at the bottom “more on the potential takeover can be found in managing director Stephen Kavanagh’s column on page 11”; turn to page 11 and “unfortunately there is little more I can reveal regarding the potential takeover of the club”). Hopefully it will, if not just to reward those who turned up on Thursday to help.

The situation through the day did raise the question of who amongst us is sad enough to be hanging around pencil poised through Christmas Eve to be the first to comment. I guess at least some of the overseas contributors would have had some time advantage here, but I wasn’t going anywhere and wrapping the prezzies could wait (especially as Lyon only arrives in London on Sunday – silly girl didn’t realise there was an earlier kick-off and, even assuming there are flights in, won’t be able to accompany me if it goes ahead). Then there’s the ‘tree falling in the forest’ problem: just who might be sad enough to be looking for anything written on Christmas Eve when the news is actually that there isn’t any definitive news?

I’ve been reading other bloggers’ posts on the takeover and not surprisingly most comment seems to centre on a certain Mr Wise. Maybe the point to make is that the two things we know are first, that the buyers are a consortium, not an individual; and second, it’s headed by Peter Varney. Unless he is just a temporary front man, it’s fair to assume that he’ll be the new chairman and the major operational participant. If that’s the case, I don’t think we should be overly concerned just whose cash is involved. Murray’s pledges are good enough to provide as much guarantee as can be hoped for that there’s no asset-stripping involved (ie selling the ground in the event that things don’t work out as planned). There are potential downsides in being owned by a consortium, but looking on the positives a consortium has to have an agreed plan of action which brought it together. It may all unravel further down the line (which would raise the issue of whether members of the consortium would be ready to sell up to anyone on any terms), but we can’t think that far ahead.

I’m continuing to assume that the new owners will have just one priority in mind – getting us back to The Championship. It’s wrong to say we can’t survive in this league, but we have a ground too big now for the third flight and despite the Walsall setback we’re still in a position to make the rest of the season all about whether we can secure promotion. That’s all I care about; it’s why going out to Brentford left me indifferent and why I won’t be going to Tottenham for the cup game.

So, at least we can all clock off now and devote a day to other matters. Apparently it’s someone’s birthday tomorrow and we all get presents. Three points on Sunday, followed by three more on Wednesday, three more on Saturday and three more on Monday will do very nicely thank you. I can’t tell Santa I’ve been good, but I promise I’ll be better if that helps. A Merry Christmas to all and sundry.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Played Crap And Lost

Having been embarrassed for 44 minutes by a non-league side on Thursday evening, just why we thought we should beat a third-tier team, albeit one propping up the table, is a mystery. Parkinson’s excuse for the first-half against Luton was the disruption to training and rustiness; presumably today it will be about fatigue. Fact is there was no good excuse for a dire display that got what it deserved, just possibly a reason. Call it what you will: complacency, arrogance, poor mental attitude. Make no mistake, this was a far worse defeat than Brighton. We’ve just come off the back of two regrettable performances against Luton, albeit with the second one partially redeemed in the second half, and we’ve seen it before this season against teams at or around the bottom. Football isn’t that complicated a game. If the commitment and energy levels drop and players don’t work hard enough to create space, you’re running risks against determined opposition with something obvious to play for. Played crap and lost.

I don’t know if the recent run and going second has encouraged a view among the players that we are good enough to play within ourselves and still grind out a result. But through the first half today I kept remembering how the first season in the Championship went and a period during it when we managed to win games by fairly narrow margins and without going flat out. I thought then for a while that that team had enough about it to get away with it. As it turned out it didn’t and the end-result was a loss of momentum and failure. If you want an easy ride in a game against lowly opposition you impose yourself and win the game, then coast if you must. You don’t amble around for much of the game expecting something to happen. Today far too often the player with the ball, often a defender, looked up to see nobody moving, coming short, making available an easy pass, or making runs further up the pitch. The result was usually a hoof forward because that was the only available alternative. Avoiding aimless balls forward isn’t about instructions; it’s about players putting in the graft and making space.

Walsall played the better football, passed the ball, had forwards who held the ball up and laid it off to willing runners, and had midfielders and defenders ready to hussle us and scrap for possession. It isn’t rocket science, just basics. Our recent run was sparked by reaction to the Brighton game and if today is to become just a bad day at the office there needs to be a similar reaction, starting at Hartlepool (what happens at Brentford is irrelevant, what happens at Spurs is only relevant for the bank balance).

With Elliot and Benson passed fit and Dailly still suspended, the team lined up as would have been expected, the same as the starting X1 against Luton. That meant Martin, Reid, Sodje and Abbot on the bench, alongside a goalkeeper with a number 40 according to the announcer (presumably Worner wasn’t fit, which meant Elliot being pressed into service come what may). And the first half bore a passable resemblance to Thursday night. Walsall had more of the play and showed some good movement, although Fortune and Doherty seemed in control in and around our area. With us struggling to get anything going, the period rather came and went. Wagstaff had an early shot from a good position which went wide, Jackson hit a decent strike but the save was routine. It basically added up to a wasted 45 minutes, a period which encouraged Walsall to believe that they could get something out of the game.

Parkinson had seen enough and at the break Anyinsah and Fry were replaced by Martin and Reid, with Jackson dropping back to full-back. It promised a more creative approach and for a period it seemed as if it might work. Reid clearly worried them, but they’d done their homework, doubled up on him when necessary, and gradually regained the control of midfield they had enjoyed in the first half. Martin initially made a difference through his mobility, but after a while he and Benson just got outmuscled.

The outcome of the game turned on two chances within a minute – and despite our overall performance we could have won the game if we’d taken the first proper chance that came our way. A ball was played through for Benson to run on beyond the defenders. The angle wasn’t great, but he only had the keeper to beat. He put the shot wide of the post. I’m a fan of Benson on the grounds that he’s a goalscorer and should be judged on that rather than his hold-up play, which hasn’t been great so far. But the miss proved costly. The ball went up the other end, their right-winger got in a decent cross to the far post which was nodded back to their guy running in to score.

That was the cue for Sodje to replace a disappointing Wagstaff, who as on Thursday night failed to provide the basics of a winger’s job. His goals have been a big bonus, but neither against Luton nor today did he give the impression of being able to beat his man, make a telling delivery, or create space. Martin moved wide right and Sodje’s greater physical threat held out the promise that we could still get something out of the game. However, as play became increasingly stretched nearly all the decent chances were created by Walsall, who might easily have scored a couple more. Elliot saved well in a one-on-one after their guy had waltzed through, other chances went begging. There was a last-gasp opportunity which fell to Benson, but when the ball dropped to him in the box he tried to lay if off instead of shooting.

In the programme, one of the Walsall commentators remarked that “if the Saddlers are to get anything today, they will need veteran keeper Jimmy Walker to be on top form”. How wrong can you be? He had to make one basic save in the entire game. Not good enough; even in the final desperate minutes there was no great sense of urgency. It’s for Parkinson to assess whether certain players are tired and whether those in the wings provide a better option. Nobody expects champagne football every game, but the past couple of weeks suggest to me that we aren’t as good as some might have started to think. Time for another response because today was a setback in every sense of the word.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. His kicking clear, especially in the first half, was poor, but I don’t know if that can be put down to whether he was truly fit. No chance with the goal, couple of good saves after we’d gone behind.

Francis: 6/10. Distribution wasn’t great, but again I’m inclined to blame those in front of him and others for that.

Fry: 6/10. Like Francis, could have got forward more but was only around for the first half. He’s done nothing much wrong, but there has to be a case for Jackson dropping back to allow in Martin or Reid, especially for home games.

Fortune: 7/10. I thought at least before the defensive side of our game went awol towards the end he had a good game. Commanding in the air and seldom troubled.

Doherty: 7/10. Much better today than in the rather shocking first half against Luton. A couple of excellent interventions from crosses and generally assured. Today wasn’t about defensive lapses for most of the game.

Jackson: 5/10. Seldom featured as an attacking threat in the first half, although he had one decent shot. With Wagstaff not finding space, our threat down the flanks was muted.

Semedo: 5/10. Put in the expected harrying and tackling when we didn’t have the ball, but this was a game where we failed to exert any control of midfield and I can’t remember him doing anything in possession.

Racon: 4/10. Disappointing game as he was generally crowded out and the game passed him by. I don’t know if he’s tired, but he looked it today.

Wagstaff: 4/10. Perhaps we’ve become over-reliant on the goals coming from him and Jackson and they’re viewed from that perspective rather than their contributions as wide men. Today he was completely contained by their defence and too often wasn’t there out wide to make space.

Anyinsah: 5/10. Some effective running in the first half and had to work on scraps, but looked rusty and I doubt whether their defenders will have an easier first half all season when against him and Benson.

Benson: 4/10. He was poor against Luton and poor again today. Missed the chance that could have won us the game and he has to be judged as a goalscorer.

Subs: Martin (5/10 – Added more movement when he came on, but also struggled against a well-organised defence); Reid (5/10 – Much the same as Martin; the fans expect a lot from him when he comes on and today, after early promise, he was contained); Sodje (6/10 – Did at least unsettle them in a way that hadn’t happened before he came on).

Friday 3 December 2010

New Owners, Second, Time For Fans To Raise The Game?

No World Cup then, but the news that Richard Murray has accepted “an indicative and legally binding offer” for Baton 2010 from an “investor group” headed by Peter Varney is far more important – although as others have already commented there’s not a lot to be said at this stage. As usual, I have no inside information and nothing to go on other than the short statement released.

In principle it’s welcome news in that Varney is of course no stranger (and his knowledge of the club must indicate that the chances of the deal folding are slim), we have confidence in Murray’s pledge only to pass on the club to suitable new owners, the timing of the deal (expected to close before Christmas) holds out the possibility of activity in the transfer window, and any new owners would have to be aware that continued funding will be required, whether or not we return to the Championship. But as yet we have no idea how deep are the pockets of the new people or just what their plans are. Hopefully that will all make for a good Xmas prezzie when such information is made available. Torres may be having a tough time, but I think he could still do a job for us.

Consequently there has to be potential upside. Barring a lousy December, new owners will come in with the team in a league position we would have grabbed with both hands at the start of the season. For that, despite the horrors of Brighton, Parkinson and the players deserve credit, even if the division this season seems a good deal poorer in quality than previously. We all remember Curbs bringing in Mills and Youds to give us fresh impetus and a couple of additions this time around – in addition to securing new contracts for Racon and Semedo - could hopefully have the same effect. Downside risks? You can’t rule out that the new guys don’t like Parkinson and that a change would cause at least short-term disruption. I hope I’m justified in ruling out the nightmare scenario of renewed talk of finding a new ground (I can’t remember Varney’s position on that one). To me these would amount to unwanted distractions when the stage is set for a real promotion push. And again it’s reasonable to suppose that new investors know that all future development hinges on promotion.

I’ve no insight into exactly why Murray is selling up, whether it’s for commercial or personal reasons. But I do remember my state of mind when selling a company I’d created: once the decision to sell is made there’s really no going back, and it would seem that Murray made that decision some time ago. I’ve been spending a little time recently converting numerous Charlton videos to DVDs and I must admit it’s had a strange effect. A concentrated reminder of the Leeds play-off, the Chelsea away game, the Battle For The Valley, the Greatest Game, and the Premiership years left me with two thoughts. First, it probably will never be that good again, period. Second, these matches/seasons/events are history and it’s up to a new generation to forge new experiences. Might Murray have similar thoughts? I’ll always be a Charlton fan to my bones, but like any relationship there has to be renewal every now and then. If it isn’t there any more, it’s time to move on; if it is, make it work.

Second in the league, prospective new owners - now its promotion or if not bust a fifth successive season of failure. That leaves what us, the fans, can do. It’s going to be difficult now not to drift into grumpy old man territory (and to avoid going over well-trodden ground), but I’ll try to work against my nature. After all, no sooner has Killer in his programme notes commented that us Charlton fans “are pretty damn good from what I can make out” than a lifelong fan has to be taken to hospital after some loser in the crowd threw a coin and a cup tie produces a paltry crowd. On the key issues – behaviour and pressuring/encouraging the team - are we good or are we bad?

On the coin-throwing, of course I hope the person is identified and held to account. But I hope even more the guy responsible has the character to come forward voluntarily (which of course begs the question whether someone who feels able to throw a coin in the manner assumed has any character or courage). It might be asking for the moon, but if the person did come forward, offered some explanation and apology, and did his/her best to make it up to the lady who was injured, I hope the club would take that into account before considering action. We’ve all done very stupid things, sometimes things which had consequences we would never have wanted, which we regret. But unless and until the person does come forward (and I’m not aware of anything to date) you have to assume he/she is the kind of moron for whom we should have nothing but contempt.

So, we ain’t perfect to begin with. But that was never on the cards. When you’re doing the video conversion for highlights of the Cup replay against Spurs in 1985 and hear monkey chants from the East Terrace you get a sad reminder of how things used to be. We do like to think we’re pretty good in general on the behaviour front. We do after all have the benchmark just down the road (no, I don’t wish to tar all Spanners with the same brush or decry that club’s efforts to clean up their supporters act, especially as some are if not friends periodically required – for fixing the boiler etc; I don’t want to get fitted up in any way other than outlined in the manual). But there’s never room for complacency.

On support of/pressure on the team, we have to do better from now on. I don’t mean in terms of attendance; these are hard times. But to delve from the archives again the noise generated by 8,000-odd for the first game back at The Valley and that truly iconic moment of Sasha arms aloft and a sea of baying fans in the background after Newton scored against Ipswich have to be our own benchmarks. Parkinson and the players are obliged to comment favourably on the level of support during games (and of course sometimes it’s merited, especially at away games). But let’s take it to another level and really get behind them.

Are we, collectively, capable of this? I was struck during a recent game by a boy, who might have been about 10, a couple of rows behind me. I didn’t hear him sing or cheer once, but with monotonous regularity there were shouts of ‘mark up’ or ‘pass’, ‘defend’. Aside from the absurdity of any of us passing on useful advice to professional footballers, and allowing for the fact that we’re all guilty of not being able to keep our gobs shut and of offering up comments that might at best travel a few yards, just what is the mentality behind feeling that it’s acceptable to moan and carp and offer up nothing in return? My dictionary definition of ‘supporter’ is “one who or that which supports or maintains; defender, partisan”. Being partisan and supportive, without this spilling over to unacceptable behaviour, is what it’s about. Maybe it is a generational thing, with everyone believing their entitled to their opinion (yes, pot, kettle, black etc); if I need brain surgery I’d prefer to rely on a brain surgeon. But perhaps we’ve lost sight of supporting in the true sense being in our own best interests. I’ve never come away miserable from a Charlton victory and if increasing the chances of winning involves being partisan, at least during the game, amen to that.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Sub-Par All Round

I can’t get enthusiastic about our fortunes in the FA Cup this year at least, and the paltry Valley crowd suggests that many others feel the same. The surprising thing was that the players must like it, as they managed to engineer another game in it to play. If I was Parkinson I’d make sure (injuries permitting) that the same X1 start on a cold evening in Luton. It would serve them right. I’ve nothing against playing within yourself, conserving energy etc; and the run of recent games has left us with some tired legs, along with some injuries. But that’s no excuse for just playing poorly and making a team like Luton look half-decent. On the balance of play, quality of passing, chances created, a replay was the least Luton deserved. But quite frankly if they were any good they would have won, so patchy and uninspired their opposition proved to be. Were it not for their boorish fans and their players’ dire attempts at diving (well, one worked as they got a penalty) we might even have felt like cheering them at the end.

Our only excuse, if there is one, is that for most of the game we were actually winning. At half-time I think we would all (players included) have taken the final whistle there and then. Instead it proved to be a game that we simply didn’t take the opportunity to do enough to kill it off. We were lulled into a false sense of security by the early first goal and the fact that after their penalty equaliser we regained the lead quite quickly, giving the impression that we could score as and when we wanted to. For too long after that it looked like a case of get the ball to Reid, or someone else, something will happen, we’ll score again and it will be all over. Well, we didn’t and proved unable to raise it after they levelled it again. Also, by putting all the kids on the bench and not playing a couple from the start, Parkinson wasn’t really able to change things around with substitutions, at least not without taking risks. Not smart, making it an afternoon that nobody comes out of with any credit, including the fans (those there and those not).

With Semedo presumably at least doubtful and not risked, Dailly still suspended, and Martin not available, Parkinson put out what was just about the strongest possible side. Anyinsah returned to partner Benson up front, McCormack predictably came in to play alongside Racon, both Reid and Wagstaff started, giving us two genuine wingers, while Llera came in alongside Fortune, with Jackson and Francis at full-back. It looked like a line-up that would have too much attacking threat for Luton to cope with. However, when commitment levels aren’t what they should be and players don’t work hard enough to create space a lot can go wrong, especially when the two central midfielders play like complete strangers. For a lot of the game it would have been good to see us string one pass together.

It all looked too easy early on. Luton started brightly, but in our first serious attack Reid crossed well and Anyinsah was standing all alone in the box. He had enough time to read War and Peace before unchallenged planting the header in the net. I don’t think he even had to get off the ground. Luton continued to play what football there was, but their inability to time runs and stay onside suggested that the threat was limited. There was a scare when a shot came back off the post, plus an unfortunate moment when Benson gave the defender the usual shove when the ball was running out of play, only for him to go headlong into the advertising board. It could have been nasty and Benson was yellow carded.

The relative calm was shattered as Luton were awarded a penalty. I’d have to see it again to be sure; it looked like a soft one, but there was a clumsy challenge and their guy took full advantage. Elliot saved the kick well, but the rebound fell kindly for them and the taker headed it home. It only took a few minutes to regain the lead. Decent work down the right produced a cross which seemed to get deflected and looped up. Jackson did what he has been doing often of late in midfield, timing a run into the box to perfection. There wasn’t a big gap between the post, the goalkeeper and a defender, but he found it. Scare over, that should have been the cue to impose ourselves. Instead it provided the excuse to lapse back into indifference.

The second half progressed much as the first, with Luton having no problem in finding a pass and us struggling to retain possession, but with the threat to our goal looking slight. Fortune and Llera were dealing well enough with anything in the air; on the ground both looked less assured. The main attacking outlet was Reid, who on several occasions looked as though he could break through to kill off the game. But nothing quite worked well enough. Benson seemed to get through only to fall over. It looked as though it wouldn’t matter at the end of the day, especially when Luton lost their second appeal for a penalty (just why the ref didn’t book the guy if he saw it as a dive I can’t say). But another Luton move forward saw us covering the box well enough, with plenty of bodies between the ball and the goal, only for their guy to latch onto a loose ball and curl an absolute beauty across the goal and into the net.

It was no more than Luton deserved. By then Sodje had come on for Anyinsah, who faded in the second half, but the change didn’t make much difference. The game ran its rather dismal course and the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. The flying jacket may keep the body warm but the feet were suffering. There will be a midweek replay, but I suspect we won’t take as many there as they brought to us. The team will be pretty much on its own for that one, but for that they only have themselves to blame.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Unlucky to save the penalty kick only for the rebound to sit up for their guy. Can’t remember any other difficult saves, once more can’t be blamed for those that went in.

Francis: 6/10. Passing was often wayward, but got in a number of decent crosses and did the defensive stuff well enough.

Jackson: 7/10. Linked up well with Reid and got in the box for a very well taken goal. Should take less of the blame than most others.

Fortune: 6/10. They actually created few decent chances and he and Llera weren’t really responsible for what went on in front of them.

Llera: 6/10. Generally good game, but still looks fragile and makes the occasional serious mistake. Was turned in the first half but got away with it by getting a free kick, made a similar mistake in the second half by going for a ball and not getting it.

Reid: 7/10. Failed to make the decisive contribution (although the cross for the first goal was good enough), but seemed to carry the attack almost single-handed at times.

Racon: 5/10. At no stage of the game did we control midfield. No shortage of effort, but may have made the challenge for their penalty and more important showed no sign of being able to play with McCormack. I hope the two of them sort it out as Semedo is bound to miss other games.

McCormack: 5/10. Some good work, but same issue as with Racon. Sort it out.

Wagstaff: 4/10. Just a poor game all round. Struggled to find space or get past his man. Has much more to offer than he showed today.

Anyinsah: 5/10. Looked rusty and faded in the second half. Took his goal well enough. We have missed him and I hope today was a useful work-out to get back to full swing.

Benson: 4/10. Fell over when in his best position of the game, picked up a silly yellow card, and was otherwise ineffective in holding up the ball or winning balls in the air. He is the goalscorer we’ve been craving, but today was a bad game for him.

Sub: Sodje – 5/10. Didn’t have the same impact as with other recent sub appearances, but the team wasn’t working well enough for him to make a difference.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Sometimes I Just Hate Opposition Keepers

No especially happy endings tonight and the run ends at five. There should have been – and would have been had it not been for two outrageous saves by their keeper. Elliot’s been very instrumental in our post-Brighton run, so we can’t complain too much about a goalkeeper earning his side a point. But we didn’t win, so we can. After the spate of games of late both the team and the crowd were somewhat subdued, especially with the second home game running having to attack the Covered End in the first half. It never helps. We played well enough in patches to have won and if we’d scored first could have won comfortably, against a very ordinary Bristol Rovers. But tonight we weren’t clinical enough when the chances came and committed the sin of falling behind. Some tired legs, along with tired fingers from all these bloody match reports. So let’s try to keep it short (by my standards).

With Dailly starting his suspension Fortune got the nod over Llera to replace him alongside Doherty, which he deserved after Saturday’s substitute appearance (although when Doherty was injured in the second half it raised the question whether Llera might be overtaken in the pecking order by our new Dutch loan signing Siep). And with Wagstaff available again but Anyinsah not, Reid dropped back to the bench, with Martin and Benson continuing up front.

We started very brightly, with Martin featuring in most of the moves and Racon and Semedo getting the sort of grip on midfield that they never really managed against Yeovil. Some decent interplay produced a couple of shots, but the early breakthrough didn’t come and the game settled down to a more patient pattern, with Bristol not causing any real problems (a bit of pace and trickery here and there but nothing else) and us trying to carve out openings. The quality of a lot of the approach play too often wasn’t matched by the end-result, however, especially as at the first sign of a decent position created everyone seemed to run away from the man with the ball and into the box rather than continue with what had been working well.

The first half was notable for one of the daftest bookings I’ve seen for a while. The ball had gone out for a throw but rebounded back onto the pitch and when their guy went to knock it back Fry ‘fouled’ him. I wasn’t aware you could be yellow carded for a foul when the ball isn’t in play. But what do I know about the rules except when the ref gets it wrong?

The decisive moment of the first half and perhaps the game came late on when it seemed for all the world we had scored as a cross was connected with, by Wagstaff I think. But their keeper instinctively thrust out a hand and turned it wide. It didn’t seem to matter too much at the time, but as the second half continued in much the same vein as the first and we were struggling to create clear-cut chances it started to, especially as they turned the game on its head by scoring. A corner was headed out but only to their guy, who invited the challenges and instead of shooting himself slipped the ball square to another. He had the time and space to measure his shot into the bottom corner.

Still plenty of time to turn things around, but the onus now was on upping the effort and doing things quicker. McCormack had already replaced Semedo, who seemed to have picked up a knock; Reid came on for Fry, with Jackson dropping back to full-back as on Saturday, then shortly after Sodje came on for Wagstaff, with Martin moving wide right. As in the previous game, Sodje in particular made a real difference in terms of making things happen, through his running and physical presence. But his evening was to prove the complete curate’s egg as he could, perhaps should, have had a hat-trick.

By now Bristol had something to hang on to and the crowd were getting a little restless. Groans started to accompany misplaced passes, especially when the ball started to go long. I don’t think there was any intention to do that, but when defenders have no easy available outlet you can’t always blame them. It’s incumbent on those in front of them to create the space. However, before things went sour we did get the equaliser. A low cross was driven in from the left and must have come off somebody as it went in. Reid was initially given the credit but the BBC site at least has given it to Benson – which would be good as it breaks his Valley duck.

Still about 15 minutes to go and time for the winner. A good cross from the right found Sodje in space and his header was to produce their keeper’s second superb save to deny him. But thereafter Sodje was to make a pig’s ear of the opportunities that came his way. He found himself goalside of the defender and seemingly with only the keeper to beat but seemed to be waiting for a repeat of Saturday’s pull back for a penalty and the defender took the ball off him. And late on he was in a great position inside the box but instead of shooting passed it to Martin, who had a tighter angle and shot wide. McCormack also had a shot well saved, but at the other end Bristol should have scored again, with their guy clean through only to shoot wide of the goal.

The BBC stats show us having had 12 attempts on target during the game (plus three off target) against three for them. That pretty much summed it up, but tonight we didn’t get the breaks that we have had in recent games and their keeper’s saves mean that, while disappointed, there’s no feeling of having been robbed. Might need some fresh legs for Saturday, though, as the number of games may be taking its toll.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. The standard score for a game in which he did nothing wrong but had very little to do. No chance with the goal.

Francis: 8/10. I thought both full-backs were excellent tonight. Not every pass was accurate, nor every cross, but got forward in support well enough and solid defensively.

Fry: 7/10. Decent game and as with Saturday no reflection on his performance that he was substituted.

Doherty: 7/10. Much more solid game than on Saturday, although Bristol’s limited attacking ambitions probably helped the cause.

Fortune: 7/10. Slotted in for Dailly to good effect, may be benefiting from getting the match practise he needed.

Jackson: 6/10. Not among the goals tonight; no complaints over a reasonable display, but of course he doesn’t provide a genuine winger’s contribution when the opposition are sitting back.

Semedo: 7/10. Another consistent and effective contribution. Hope the knock isn’t serious.

Racon: 7/10. Excellent first half in particular, in defence and attack; didn’t come up with a decisive contribution but threatened to do so, especially when linking up with Martin.

Wagstaff: 6/10. Thought he should have been capable of more in exposing a rather pedestrian full-back, but nearly added to his goal tally.

Benson: 7/10. Without Anyinsah he’s having to bear the brunt of the target man’s job and he did it OK, but as on Saturday we needed a more physical presence up front in the latter stages as he and Martin were getting outmuscled. Hope he did score the goal to break the home duck.

Martin: 8/10. I’d give him man of the match for us tonight (reluctantly their keeper would get it overall); he was excellent in the first half especially, took the knocks that came his way, and almost nicked it at the death.

Subs: McCormack (7/10 – he looked better for me tonight than against Barnet in the cup; worked hard enough and one decent shot); Reid (6/10 – probably his cross for the goal, livened things up initially when he came on); Sodje (6/10 – I don’t know whether to give him an 8 for the impact he had or a 4 for his finishing; he started the first game of the season, scored, and hasn’t started one since; is he suffering from lack of match practise?)

Saturday 20 November 2010

Strange Game, Great Ending

You can’t win five on the bounce in this league unless you are by some distance better than other teams or you get some luck. I’ll take a win by any means any day of the week, but the fact is that in terms of quality, chances created, opportunities to win, this one was about equal, between the team second and that second from bottom. It was a game that, given the league positions, we would have been disappointed not to win, but also one that for a period we would have settled for a point. And while the highlights will look good quality was in short supply through most of the game. We could as easily have lost as won and at the moment I’m not quite sure what that says about us (and Yeovil, but that’s for others to speculate on). I’m delighted with the response to the Brighton game, with our league position, and with the prospect that a promotion challenge is looking increasingly likely (well, we are second and closing the gap). Nobody’s pretending that we can consistently roll over teams in the fashion of a week ago. But then maybe I’m just a miserable old git; it’s a game of fine margins and we’ve just won a five-goal thriller, so as ever we take it and move on.

The unavailability of Anyinsah and Wagstaff meant some selection decisions and some restriction of options. Parkinson went for Benson and Martin up front, as for most of last Saturday’s game, with Reid operating down the right and Jackson on the left side. The rest of the team picked itself.

There’s no question that Yeovil started the brighter, with no intention of a defensive approach. Their cause was helped by some very uncertain defending in the early stages, with Doherty looking particularly capable. We were struggling to find any sort of rhythm or midfield control. So of course we simply scored a goal out of keeping with what had gone before. A throw-in was knocked on to Martin, who took it down the right side and delivered a peach of a ball in. Jackson timed his run to perfection and while the strike wasn’t clean it sent the ball into the corner of the net. That all suggested that whatever their qualities Yeovil had a soft underbelly. And so it was to prove.

I thought that goal might knock the stuffing out of them, but instead they levelled the game not long after. A ball through was blocked but their guy was alert to a hole between our defenders and ran into it, before shooting low into the bottom corner. As the game progressed it was surprising that so much was aimless, but good chances continued to be created at either end. Martin danced through and shot just wide, Benson curled one just past the far post, and he got on the end of a free kick but put it over the bar. They had their moments too, but on balance during this period we were just about getting on top. And we went back into the lead as Racon found himself in space inside the box and hit a shot on the turn. It was a splendid finish, In fact all three goals had a quality about them that belied the indifference of much of the play. There was still time before the break for Yeovil to almost level again, but Elliot turned aside a goalbound shot.

Ahead at the break, the question seemed to be whether we would get another and run out comfortable winners. But Yeovil to their credit continued to take the game to us and had another period of if not dominance one where they were tending to win the challenges and if anything play the better football. They got their reward when Dailly was penalised; the free kick was muffed, but instead of clearing the lines Racon miskicked and the ball went straight to their guy, who promptly buried it into the top of the net.

OK, things aren’t going well and we need to go out again and win the game. Benson and Martin together up front were having good moments, but without control of the game and too many balls played aimlessly forward there was a case for a more physical presence. I thought it was the right move to bring on Sodje, move Martin out wide, and switch Reid to the left, where he might be more effective. And that was what Parkinson did, taking off Fry and dropping Jackson back. Only problem was that the strategy went out of the window shortly after as Dailly picked up a straight red.

I thought Dailly was unlucky, but it wasn’t a dreadful decision by the referee. The way I saw it, the ball was played over Dailly’s head and running sideways with the ball over his shoulder he jumped and probably did connect with his arm to their guy’s face. There was nothing malicious or intentional, just one of those moments when it’s down to the ref’s interpretation. He’d been a fussy git all afternoon and had given most of the decisions their way. He could have decided it was nothing, or given a yellow card. Instead out came the red and suddenly we were not only level but a man short against a team that had already created enough to suggest that we would have trouble holding out.

Fortune came on for Reid to shore up the defence, with a narrower three in midfield. At that point I would have taken the point, but the game took another twist in an instant. A ball into the box found Sodje the right side of the defender, who manhandled him to the ground. It was a clear penalty and an obvious red card. Their keeper clearly hadn’t read the match programme, in which Jackson talked about his spot kick against Peterborough, and the same sort of shot produced the same end-result. In an instant we were in front and with equality of players restored.

There were still about 10 minutes plus stoppage time to play out, but the period was negotiated reasonably comfortably, despite an odd back pass, helped by Fortune slotting in very effectively. McCormack came on for Martin to shore things up. Nobody in red wanted another twist to a strange afternoon and there wasn’t to be one. Cue Elliot’s celebration, booing of the ref, and a welcome glass. It was far from perfect all round, we didn’t play as well as in some other games, but another three points in the bag and another home game coming up. I’ll settle for that.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. No chance with either goal and at least one excellent save before half-time. Otherwise commanding after his splendid performance on Tuesday.

Francis: 6/10. Got tricked down the line a couple of times, but generally seemed OK. But the defence overall was edgy today.

Fry: 6/10. Much the same. No obvious mistakes and no criticism of him to be taken off to change the team around.

Doherty: 5/10. Perhaps a little unfair, but in the first 30 minutes or so he seemed to me very shaky and it had a generally unsettling effect on the defence. But improved as the game went on.

Dailly: 6/10. Has to lose a mark for the red card, which could have cost us the game. I think it was just one of those moments where he was caught unbalanced and made a clumsy challenge. Losing him for three games is going to hurt.

Reid: 6/10. Good moments as usual, but didn’t look comfortable on the right side and when defending had one horrible moment where he let the ball run and let their guy in.

Semedo: 7/10. Solid enough, but we didn’t control midfield. Also, got into a good position twice in the second half and elected not to shoot. Go on Jose, have a punt.

Racon: 6/10. Took his goal well, but also takes the rap for their second as he made a hash of the clearance.

Jackson: 8/10. Let’s given him the man of the match today. Two goals in successive games (now top scorer), wide left, then back to full back. And when the penalty came along he made no mistake.

Benson: 7/10. Unlucky not to score in the first half but with too many hopeful balls forward struggled as the main target man. Hope the lack of Valley goals doesn’t become an issue.

Martin: 7/10. Great ball in for the first goal and caused them problems. Like Benson wasn’t in the game as much in the second half.

Subs: Sodje (7/10 – made a difference when he came on and he got the penalty which turned the game in our favour); Fortune (7/10 – good contribution coming on at a difficult time, won most of the challenges); McCormack (not enough time for a rating, but contributed in the time-wasting before the end).

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Elliot Gets The Plaudits

After Saturday I think we were ready to forgive almost anything tonight – except perhaps extra time. I was even willing to pardon my partner Suzanne for preventing me from taking a trip to Peterborough (this is grossly unfair, but as they say history is written by the victors; my mother persuaded my father to go Christmas shopping once instead of the home game and that one turned out 7-6). And let’s just accept tonight for what it was, despite all the nonsense written in the programme. It was a game to win with as little effort as possible and move on; after Reid scored everyone in red was ready for a hot bath. It was an opportunity for some players to remind Parkinson they are around, but of them nobody took the chance – and in front of a crowd a little above 4,000 perhaps they have mitigating circumstances.

With Semedo, Martin and Anyinsah out of the equation, there had to be changes to the line-up. Fortune came in to give Doherty a rest alongside Dailly, who never seems to need one. Francis and Fry made up the back four. Not surprisingly McCormack came in to partner Racon in central midfield, but whether or not they were told to do so it seemed odd to me that McCormack spent most of the game, at least until the latter stages, in a more advanced role than Racon, despite his recent goals. If that gave us an odd shape, we also had Wagstaff, Jackson and Reid alternating in a flexible formation, with Abbott effectively the lone striker. Reid did seem to have a roving role, until he embarrassed their full-back to score the goal, after which he seemed to decide that’s the position he wanted to occupy. As an exercise in options it might have had merit, but the end-result was disjointed, with Racon not able to get forward and Abbott unable to hold the ball up for others to run, although in his defence the service was poor.

There was an early scare as Barnet hit the post with an early effort, but in general we did enough to have most of the play in the first half, without looking especially dangerous. Francis found himself up against a speedy and tricky winger, albeit one who looked like he tends to fluff the final ball, and provided an excellent example of how to handle the situation: a mix of timely tackles and the occasional shove. The game was going nowhere in particular when we took the lead out of nothing. Their full-back should have had the situation under control but dwelt on the ball and Reid took it from him and outpaced him. Rather than looking for any pass he simply went on and scored at the near post. It was a very well taken goal, but one that no defender should be proud of having given away.

I can’t remember any other notable incidents of the first half and at the break we were reasonably comfortable. But that only served to encourage all concerned to take it as easy as possible. When you start a game slowly and aren’t truly up for it it is hard to turn around. And after the break Barnet clearly decided that with nothing to lose they might as well take it to us. The second half was to be all about Elliot.

Wagstaff was replaced at the break, with Benson coming on and Jackson going wide right in a more conventional 4-4-2 set-up. If we thought that would create more of an attacking threat we were mistaken. Benson was to play his part, with one delightful flick to set up McCormack for a run through which should have ended with a better finish and just as important one moment in our own box where he put his head in where it hurts to clear. But Jackson looked uncomfortable on the right side and, with Reid after his goal flattering to deceive – and guilty of standing still instead of tracking his man in a dangerous position, which led to another Elliot save – we continued to struggle to make anything happen. Most of Elliot’s saves were good, including turning a Basey free kick around the post, but a couple at least were outstanding, including one at the near post from a McLeod shot (he came on as a substitute) and a one-on-one which he blocked.

Doherty came on for Fortune to try to ensure we kept what we had, and later Abbott departed for Sodje, to no obvious effect. It was a case of running down the clock – and to be honest, despite Elliot’s saves I’ve been more nervous in a pre-season friendly. When you’re 1-0 up on a night like tonight you just want the final whistle and to be spared another 30 minutes. It all came soon enough.

The games have been coming thick and fast and I’m not going to moan about tonight, even though on chances created Barnet will feel they have been robbed. Others may disagree, but I’m not bothered about a third-round FA Cup tie (except for the money). I’ll never want us to lose, but tonight , the prospect of Luton or Corby, and the Southend Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exercise, plus the ‘southern semi-final’ against Brentford are all games you just hope improve the gelling of the squad and can be negotiated without injury and suspensions for more important tasks. Let’s get serious again on Saturday as after the recent results and given the league position the bar has been raised, with two home games coming up and the chance to really push on. The reaction to the Brighton result has been spot on; taking it easier tonight was understandable. I just hope we haven’t used up our allocation of luck.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. I don’t know what constitutes a perfect score; in football there always has to be the potential for more, but he was man of the match by a distance. If we make it through for a money-spinning third-round tie Murray owes him a pint.

Fry: 7/10. Reasonable enough game; was a touch unlucky to pick up a yellow card.

Francis: 7/10. I thought he was excellent in the first half against a difficult winger, but came under more pressure in the second as they went for it. Like Fry wasn’t able to get forward to much effect, given problems in front of them.

Fortune: 6/10. No obvious mistakes, but did seem to play the game without really imposing himself, or paying too much attention to distribution.

Dailly: 8/10. Composed and assured, Mr Reliable.

Reid: 6/10. Extra mark for the goal, but quite frankly after that his performance disappointed me. He’s good enough to have run them ragged but didn’t. Has to do more to be demanding a starting position.

McCormack: 5/10. Disappointing. I thought he’d slot into the Semedo role and play as if he had something to prove to Parkinson. Instead he was more advanced than Racon, which seemed to suit neither of them.

Racon: 6/10. Decent enough first half but barely featured in the second. He’s started scoring goals but was in my opinion too deep tonight.

Jackson: 5/10. Suffered from accommodating both Reid and Wagstaff and then being played out right in the second half. Back to normal position on Saturday I hope.

Wagstaff: 6/10. Not sure whether he picked up a knock or whether taking him off was tactical. Looked lively in the first half when he and Reid were switching around.

Abbott: 5/10. Service to him was usually poor, but didn’t do enough to suggest that he deserves a starting place ahead of Benson, Anyinsah and Martin. Missed opportunity.

Subs: Benson (6/10 – the flick and the defensive header, not a great deal else but we weren’t looking to go forward much in the second half); Doherty (7/10 – his coming on for Fortune didn’t exactly tie things up at the back as hoped); Sodje (5/10 – like Benson struggled to make an impact as we were effectively playing out the game).

Thursday 11 November 2010

Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone

We knew it was coming, and the reasons for it, but a quick check on the club website today was depressing. We have, inevitably, joined the ranks of the cheap, unoriginal, ghastly, packaged, ad-ridden ‘Football League interactive’ websites. Up flashed an ad for Specsavers. Borrowing another phrase from The Boss, I wish I were blind. If Mr Happy keeps popping up I might have to burn down every Specsavers’ outlet in the hope that he’s hiding in one of them. We just have to pray that, like our stay in the third flight, it will prove to be a temporary aberration and binned at the earliest possible opportunity (can we make it a condition of a takeover?). Time then for a few things that have made me laugh of late, to brighten at least my mood.

In common with the rest of humanity, I might have no interest in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (having ditched the opportunity to exit gracefully we are now in the position where we have to go on and win the bloody thing). But I’m still sad enough to have sat in front of the PC through the game on Tuesday night to check progress on the BBC site. Couldn’t help being drawn to checking the details of the Wycombe v Bristol Rovers game going on at the same time (perhaps an after-effect of our own recent home reversal). Wycombe, 1-5 down at home with 10 minutes left, end up losing 3-6. Sounds like a proper spanking, then you look at the stats (yes, it’s getting sadder). Possession? 50-50. Corners? 9-2 in favour of Wycombe. Bristol’s attempts on target? Five - and only nine including off-target. Even ignoring how a team can manage to score six with no own goals and have five on target (I do remember Middlesbrough winning 3-2 at Arsenal and registering one attempt on target all game, the victory coming courtesy of two own goals), it sounds like one of those nights when nothing goes right and the opposition score with just about every shot. Sack the manager because he must have run over a cat or be paying for the sins of a previous life.

While we’re on Bristol Rovers, it’s disappointing to note that according to reports they are trying to farm out a certain Dominic Blizzard on loan, to give him some playing time. Our home game against them is coming up in a couple of weeks and I for one was looking forward to letting him know just what we think about his tackle on Basey – and more to the point Trollope and Blizzard's reaction to it. There will still be the opportunity to howl at the disgraceful Trollope, but if Blizzard’s available why don’t we take him on? I’m sure we could find a suitable position for him.

If Wycombe and others are feeling a little down, there is of course always someone worse off than yourself. I keep tabs on the progress of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, and a recent check on the CFA Groupe B table, which showed Duchere eighth in the 17-strong league (but with a game in hand over a few of those above them), also drew my attention to Louhans-Cuiseaux. A quick check reveals that Louhans is a “market town of great charm” in south-east Burgundy (just north-east of Macon). It “lies on one of France's prettiest small rivers, the River Seille, and has a delightful mediaeval charm and tranquil atmosphere”. Cuiseaux it seems lies just a little to the south. The two villages – which merged their football teams in 1970 – sound absolutely spendid places to visit. But they have a truly pants combined team, this season at least. Their record so far reads ‘played 10, won 0, drawn 0, lost 10, goals for 3, goals against 31’. In this division you get three points for a win, one for a draw, and one for showing up. Louhans-Cuiseaux’s points tally is 9, suggesting that they decided not to turn up for one of the games. Their best result of those played is having held the opposition to a 1-0 victory (yes, it was Duchere). I’ve no idea if the manager’s already been sacked yet, but if not might be worth getting down to the bookies.

I suppose if you’re bang in the heart of Burgundy there are compensations when your football team is propping up the table. All of which brings us back to Charlton, as the club has just announced that there will be a trial sale of real ale in the ground for the Yeovil game. Can we not find it in our hearts to ship in a case of the local Louhans-Cuiseaux tipple, on a trial basis of course, for the following game? The beer trial is apparently in response to requests from fans. Please take this as the start of a request campaign. If nothing happens, I’m going to start writing letters and if that doesn’t work I’ll hunt you down. Just as soon as I’ve sorted out Mr Happy from Specsavers.

Monday 8 November 2010

Investor Criteria: Jordan Need Not Apply

The season, and more or less everything else Charlton-related, just keeps getting more confusing, at least for a simple soul like myself. On the fresh investment/takeover front, as ever I have no idea what is or might be going on behind the scenes (anybody looking for actual news here please stop now); and nobody can blame Richard Murray for not being specific in the statement released by the club. If anything has to remain confidential until signed, or at least a formal offer made, it’s on this front. But the latest report from the BBC, citing a “senior source at the club”, seems reasonably blunt, suggesting that the Beeb at least is confident about its facts.

The weekend speculation, from the somewhat less reliable source of The News of the World, focused on Peter Ridsdale apparently trying to put together a deal to take us over, one that was prompting divided opinion on the part of the board (which is a little odd as Murray’s is the only opinion that matters). That prompted a denial from him, that the reports were “categorically untrue and without foundation” and that “at no time have I made a bid for Charlton nor do I intend to do so”. That does of course leave it open whether he could be involved in a bid in some way, shape or form. Then came the club statement on the site, that the process of actively seeking investment “continues”, that “we have constant conversations with interested parties” (pedant linguistic point here: regular, ongoing conversations fine, constant conversations not), but that “we’d like to make it clear to supporters that no deal is imminent”. All fine and good.

The subsequent BBC report claimed that a takeover bid led by Sebastien Sainsbury had been rejected, on the grounds that the offer had not come with proof of funds. The report referred to Ridsdale in the context of him being involved in a rival US bid advised by the MD of Citibank’s sports finance unit, who apparently tried to buy Cardiff and Hull. Given that Sainsbury was reportedly involved in a failed bid in 2004 to buy Leeds and that he apparently in July registered a ‘takeover vehicle’ called Charlton Athletic 2010 Ltd, this leaves entirely open whether the NoTW simply thought that all roads lead back to Ridsdale, or whether he is involved in some way without having or intending to bid himself. We just don’t know and maybe never will. If there was a bid by Sainsbury and if it was rejected for lacking proof of funds, clearly that leaves the door open for a fresh effort addressing those concerns.

Our backstop is Murray’s repeated pledge that “the future of the club is paramount in my thoughts, and the identity of any new owners or investors is of huge importance to the board and I; they have to be right for the board and the club”. We can’t tell whether he means that Sainsbury or Ridsdale might not meet our ‘fit and proper person’ criteria, but maybe there’s mileage in applying some simple risk/return profile rules.

It’s reasonable to apply four ratings/rankings for any prospective new owner (a new investor is a different matter; anyone with a cheque that doesn’t bounce for a minority stake would be acceptable). In an ideal world a new owner of the club would have the personal credentials of a Nelson Mandela (I would have said St Francis of Assisi but as a life-long committed atheist he would have failed my test), the assets of at least an Abramovich, the style sense of a Mourinho, and no property-related vehicles. The last criterion has to be applied because of the obvious risk involved in The Valley and/or training ground being used in an asset-stripping purchase; it shouldn’t be necessary as Murray’s pledge is clear. The third is just a subjective variable which can be used at random in the event that there are areas of doubt; it would have been useful in eliminating Gold and Sullivan. For reference purposes, and with a note to his own recent comments, Jordan scores zero on all fronts and can be considered the benchmark for the unacceptable, even if he came backed by sole rights over China’s foreign exchange reserves.

There are of course acceptable trade-offs. I have nothing but respect for the way that for example Barry Hearn has run Orient, not simply throwing money away in a fruitless pursuit of ‘success’. But we don’t need a replacement for Murray of this nature as there would, for us at least, be no upside. An acceptable financial commitment is required, ie some person or group that will only see a return with us at least stable in The Championship with aspirations of a return to The Premiership. It’s taken a few years for even the very flush owners of QPR to get that team into a position to challenge for a place in the top flight. We all have patience if things seem to be moving in the right direction (as three wins on the spin demonstrate). The Dubai guys in different global and regional circumstances would have been fine, especially if Murray had a continuing role.

Of course, where it all gets messy is when we attract interest from all the flotsam and jetsam of the football world with no real interest in the club other than making a buck (ie selling it on at a higher price within a few years). Not necessarily bad if it works, but a bloody disaster if it doesn’t (when the tax bills start running up and suddenly we find the ground’s truly on the line). I’ve no idea where Sainsbury sits in that context, but it’s fair to say that there would be doubts about Ridsdale, especially in view of the comments of others. Trouble is, overseas money would have to be attracted by the long term prospects (of course they’d learn to love us and the club) as anyone with the funds available could presumably get a half-decent Championship club.

So, all as clear as mud. With nothing imminent, we wait, and think about matters on the pitch. I was in Amsterdam when we took on Swindon and spent the weekend trying to catch up rather than taking a trip to Barnet. Didn’t sound like a thriller and of course a replay has mixed implications: yes, as Elliot says on the site another game can help with the gelling process, but it will presumably be a game that will cost us money on the night. I know it’s wrong, and for sure the prospect of a second-round home tie against Luton or Corby gives even us with our recent cup record a decent shot at making the third-round draw. And that in turn could help boost the coffers. But money aside I just don’t at present look forward to the possibility of a third-round clash with one of the ‘big boys’. It would just serve as a reminder of what used to be. As and when we’re back in The Championship a cup run, or just a game against Premiership opposition, is an attractive prospect as it would be enticing, holding out what could be in the future, rather than what has gone before.

It (I hope) goes without saying that tomorrow night’s clash against Southend will also see me absent. I made it there last season for the league game, but a second trip for a competition even the final of which is not appealing (done the Full Members Cup Final, which is on a par) is too much to take on board. There are restrictions on how many of the recent starting X1 we can rest, but I hope the allocation’s used in full. And in what’s becoming a list of sorry excuses, Peterborough on Saturday is unlikely. Lyon comes to London this weekend and I’m not sure this is what Suzanne had in mind when she said she’d like to see more of England.

Which just leaves one abiding thought concerning reaction to the Brighton game. Did the level of criticism from many have a positive impact? It shouldn’t have, and I’d be tempted to say instead that in the subsequent three games we’ve had the breaks when against Brighton we didn’t (which is not to say we were unlucky to lose), but you never know. How do we go from shipping seven goals in two games to three successive clean sheets? Greater focus on cutting out simple mistakes and greater emphasis on defending? Again, shouldn’t be necessary, and again it’s clear from the highlights that Swindon at least could easily have taken the lead, which could have meant a different outcome. Small margins, but if there’s a lesson it has to be most games this season are going to be won or lost by a few key moments – at least until we’ve fully gelled and roll over all who stand in our way.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Effort Brings Due Rewards

Before the game we’d all have taken a win of any kind; after that, having conceded seven in two, a win with a clean sheet. So no room for anything other than delight – at both the result and a performance which, if it lacked some quality and precision, left nothing to be desired in terms of effort and commitment. After what happened last time at The Valley it was pleasing to see that the players were well aware that a determined display was required. In the post-Brighton debate over Parkinson, it must count that in key areas players ran their socks off. This time we did have something to hang on to, and if the second half was more about stopping them equalising than getting a second (can’t say making it safe, having blown a three-goal lead last Saturday) this was an example of the ends justifying the means.

Overall, Racon and Semedo put in the best combined performance I’ve seen from them this season; indeed, what stood out for me was Racon’s tackling as much as his distribution. Doherty and Dailly both had the occasional iffy moment, but broke up attacks and headed the ball away countless times. Benson’s play outside the box was the best to date and he nearly rounded off the day with a flick that went just over after some superb trickery down the line by Martin late in the day. Anyinsah was a threat all afternoon, while Wagstaff scored the goal and was the main outlet when we needed to relieve the pressure (although his choice of pass when in good positions in the second half especially let him down). Let’s not go overboard. Sheff Wed proved to be strong but surprisingly limited and rather sluggish opposition, at least until they brought on Johnson in the second half. And the game turned on us scoring a rather fortunate goal (albeit deserved on the balance of play in the first half). Far from perfect, but we know the circumstances and the season at the moment is still about improvement. After Brighton, two wins, back into the top six (and only six places below Palace now). I think we’d have all taken that.

The team was unchanged from Carlisle, with Parkinson opting not to alter the defence, bring in McCormack, and to retain Jackson wide left. A change of ends after the toss-up meant the chance for the Covered End to welcome back Nicky Weaver, but the mix of boos and applause probably summed it up. There’s no hard feelings really. We didn’t like him before he came to us, cheered him when he did, and it’s not his fault that the time he was here was a horrible period for the club. Good luck to him. In fact Weaver was to feature prominently in the first half, for good and bad. He reminded us that as a shot-stopper he is one of the best, turning away a couple of decent strikes. But his inability to command an area, or indeed come off his line, meant that any good cross caused them problems. A couple of repeats of the corner that saw Benson score at the death against Carlisle nearly produced a similar outcome.

We did have the better of the first half, in terms of possession and chances. Wednesday had their moments, but aside from one Elliot save, turning a shot round the post, and one wicked shot which curled just wide everything was blocked before it got through. At the other end Benson and Anyinsah were winning balls in the air they had no right and looked menacing, crosses were narrowly not converted, although clear-cut chances were hard to come by. However, we took the lead when a corner was half-cleared and someone put in a lousy shot which bounced back off a Charlton shirt invitingly for Wagstaff around the edge of the box. His shot was true, giving Weaver no chance. The only sour point of the first half was how the referee could have a long chat with one of theirs after he’d deliberately pulled back Jackson in a dangerous position and not produce a card, only to pull one out when Semedo clipped someone breaking out.

Wednesday came out a little more purposeful in the second half and as the game wore on it not surprisingly became increasingly about whether we would hold out. Their substitutions were with attacking intent as they had to chase the game, and Johnson in particular made a difference. We became less intent on supporting the forwards from midfield and were, quite frankly, quite happy for the game to be over. There were some dangerous moments. One header should have been buried, there were a few goalmouth scrambles, and substitute Morrison (formerly of the team a few places above us) almost got through but poked it wide of Elliot. Nevertheless, there have been much sweatier final 20 minutes and most of the time the defence coped very well. Martin came on for Anyinsah and again almost rounded the game off by completely trumping their guy down the line and delivering it for Benson, while also picking up a booking for having to jump over a tackle which if he’d stayed on his feet may well have produced a penalty. I also thought we should have had a penalty before then when Anyinsah turned his man and was pulled back just enough to stop him getting to the ball before the next defender.

Racon gave way to McCormack at the death, but by then all we wanted was the final whistle. Cue some relief and some quiet satisfaction over a display which was very good in the context of what had gone before. It’s a game of margins and while others may disagree we played as well against Brighton in the first half. That time everything went against us. Subsequently we’ve snatched a last-second winner away and won at home with a clean sheet. So it’s something better than Australian or Beaujolais for me tonight (and everyone else I hope). Let’s hope we feel the same way after Swindon on Tuesday (personally I’ll be in Amsterdam drinking whatever is put in front of me).

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Only really called on once, when he made a decent save, which is testament to those in front of him and very welcome after the recent goals against tally.

Francis: 7/10. Decent game, contributed going forward in the first half in particular.

Doherty: 8/10. Made a couple of errors, but overall was a rock and neutered their long-throw threat.

Dailly: 8/10. As for Doherty. Wednesday didn’t have the pace to test us on that front. Must be relieved not to be asked to play full-back any more.

Fry: 7/10. Gave away a few needless free-kicks but otherwise solid.

Jackson: 6/10. Seemed a little off the pace sometimes but added solidity and nearly scored in the first half with a decent shot.

Semedo: 8/10. Excellent game. Sensibly managed to avoid getting sent off after the early booking, despite their antics.

Racon: 8/10. My man of the match. Excellent distribution and exceptional tackling. He and Semedo ran the game in the first half at least.

Wagstaff: 7/10. Could have been a 6 or a 9. Scored, did many things well, just loses a mark for not making the most of some very good positions in the second half, choosing the wrong pass.

Anyinsah: 7/10. Put himself about and almost got through on a number of occasions. Stayed on his feet when tugged back having turned the defender.

Benson: 7/10. Much better all-round contribution, just a pity that flick or any of the first-half headers didn’t go in.

Subs: Martin (7/10 – played centrally, coming on instead of Sodje or Abbott, and almost laid on a second); McCormack (only on for a couple of minutes).

Thursday 28 October 2010

On A Lighter Note ...

It’s all been too serious of late. And having taken up too much space waffling extensively on matters Charlton, there hasn’t been the opportunity to squeeze in an update on whether during the past week in Lyon I managed to make it to the crucial CFA Group B Lyon Duchere away game at Besancon. The truth is I didn’t. My partner Suzanne was up for it in principle (no, honest, apparently it’s a very nice town and an overnight stay could have been rounded off by the game), but it would have meant sacrificing our one full day of pure R&R (with associated and aforementioned rabbit in mustard) for a two hours-plus drive back on a Saturday night - and perhaps more to the point having to take a risk on running out of petrol in light of a problem or two in this department of late in France, with a little reserve required to get me to the airport on Sunday.

(Sorry if anyone’s expecting dramas, but I didn’t see any riots during the week. If I’d known that shops were going to be looted, I’d have joined the protest march and directed it towards a good wine shop I know. I could just see the reports: ‘Police are looking for a man with an English accent wearing a Charlton shirt and carrying two bottles of Chateau d’YQuem and two bottles of Petrus’. If you think that might have resulted in a rather limited number of suspects, don’t forget that there is another Duchere-supporting Addick out there.)

So having already passed on a seven-goal thriller at Carlisle, it was with some trepidation that I checked the France Football site today for an update on what I might have had. I was aware that Duchere are not noted for their high-scoring games. Prior to Saturday this season’s eight games had produced 16 goals (nine for, seven against), not bad but less impressive (11 in seven) when you strip out that exceptional 4-1 home win over low-flying Chasselay (a town which as noted in a previous comment may have featured in a Monty Python classic but whose defence must be permanently lathered, much like our own of late). What I hadn’t done was check on Besancon’s record in that department. They actually went into the game unbeaten this season, but with only two wins out of eight. The other six were drawn and the accumulated goals tally for their games stood at 13.

I think people should be able by now to see where this is going. Duchere and Besancon did indeed duly play out a 0-0 draw on Saturday evening. I don’t have a match report to pass on, but you can imagine the entertainment quotient for a game that I guess will live longer in my memory than that of any other living soul. Suzanne may have been sold on going to the game, but just how many brownie points I would have lost will forever remain, fortunately, a matter of pure conjecture.

The result nevertheless set me thinking about the worst 0-0 draw I’ve ever seen. It’s another I may have mentioned before (prior to the Notts County game), when on New Year’s Day a County-supporting friend and I drove from London to Nottingham (and back), in a very poor state, to watch two utterly indifferent and hungover teams on a quagmire of a pitch. Never mind goalmouth action, I don’t think the ball moved more than 10 yards either side of the centre-circle all game. All I do remember of the occasion was the pair of us (plus a few others) pleading for those in a tea shack the other side of a fence to get to us whatever liquid (quite literally) they might have had. Aye, we had it tough.

That’s one of only two tea-shack related incidents at football matches I can recall. The other was when for some inexplicable reason some friends and I drove south from university at Sheffield one Saturday to take in a Chesterfield v Millwall game. We went in what passed for the away end, thinking it better that with London accents that was the safer option (nobody in their right mind would be there and not a Spanner). After about 20 minutes I was in the queue for a cuppa and Chesterfield were awarded a penalty. The poor runt of a Chesterfield fan with the task of dishing out the refreshments was obviously a little keen to see what was happening on the pitch. Far be it for me to condone this sort of behaviour, but a big, hairy Spanner waiting to be served leant into the cabin and hollered “are you serving the f***ing tea or watching the f***ing game?” There was a quick reordering of priorities.

So, Sheffield up against us again on Saturday. Always brings back memories for me, given my three years there (more if the post-graduation period on the dole is added; well, after the strains of securing a philosophy degree you need time out to consider the first steps on a career path). Recent experience has not been positive. With a fellow Addick driving, we went up to Bramall Lane for the match in our final Premiership season. On the bus to the ground an old lady asked us if we were OK to find the ground and I explained we were, given my time there (when for a while as sports editor of the university paper I used to avail myself of the press pass to United games). ‘Did we treat you right?’ she kindly inquired. Well, you did before, but not on that day, which saw an aimless and spineless performance from us rounded off with a late winner for them from Gillespie (where is he now? Apparently Darlington if Wikipedia is to be believed). Nor on my next excursion to the city of steel, to Hillsborough in our final Championship season. That saw us routed 4-1. The recent results at The Valley against Sheffield teams have of course been more mixed, but nobody’s going to forget the pasting dished out in Pardew’s last game.

Consequently I feel we are owed one. Could be a decent game, against a (relatively) ‘big’ team in this division, one currently fourth. Oh merde, I was going to say I’m quite looking forward to it. I think I used those words ahead of our last home game.

Monday 25 October 2010

The Eternal Optimist

Modern technology can be a mixed blessing when it comes to periodically tracking the Addicks’ fortunes from foreign shores (I’m sure our resident overseas bloggers have got it down to a fine art), especially as the chances of wandering into a sports bar and finding us on the telly have declined somewhat in the past few years (ah, those halcyon days when in Madrid I managed to catch the last 20 minutes of a home game against Villa and Hughes’ late winner). And while for those actually in attendance in Carlisle on Saturday afternoon it might have been a roller-coaster, for me it proved a veritable montagnes russes.

Having left the rabbit to marinade in the mustard overnight (OK, if truth be told we left it in the salted water overnight because we forgot about it, but my partner Suzanne apparently dreamt about rabbits and corrected the mistake some time in the wee small hours while I was still comatose and probably dreaming of more earthly pursuits), there was no need for extensive shopping at the La Croix Rousse market. But we went anyway, out of habit, with this being an excuse to have some pastis while perusing the property mags. And the afternoon was whiled away in an enjoyable yet fruitless exercise in pouring euros into machines to try to win a cuddly toy for Suzanne. Having given up and settled on another bar, it was time to check how things were going on, since one usually regular supplier of info by texts had, following last Saturday’s setback, decided to go shopping for curtains instead of doing the right thing and staying glued to the radio and updating me.

Zoot alore! We’re winning 3-1! The euphoria was tempered when the mobile made it through to the BBC page on the game, as I realised we had been 3-0 up. And before I had the chance to ponder on the chances of playing out the game the page updated to show 3-2. From afar it seemed inevitable there would be an equaliser and before the pastis was finished that was confirmed. The afternoon sun was setting and the mood darkened as the temperature dropped. Could we hold out? The rabbit couldn’t wait much longer and I handed the phone back to Suzanne for the walk back to the car. As we got in she looked again and the text had updated to say ‘full time’ while the result at the top was still showing 3-3. Bugger. A 4-0 home defeat followed by blowing a three-goal lead. All that was left when back in the flat was to check the details and the table. But wait. Something’s wrong. No, something’s bloody good. Open the good red after all Suzanne, I'm not a miserable old git any more.

I can’t comment on the game, having only watched the highlights on my return to London. But what a difference a goal makes. No, it doesn’t mean all is great; but imagine the reaction if Benson hadn’t buried the header. Small margins indeed; and Parky must have said a quiet word of thanks to whoever he might think is up there.

I was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction to the Brighton defeat. Yes, it hurt and hurt badly. But I didn’t think it was our worst performance of this season (and there were many worse last season). Brighton looked something special (well, they do have Kishishev, who I will always fondly remember for that golden period of him, Murphy and Smertin, plus Rommedahl and Thomas supplying the ammo for Bent), were full of confidence, but were still flattered by the eventual margin. When I said as much after the game to friends, someone I didn’t know took issue and asked me whether I was happy with us drifting to being a mid-table third-tier outfit (we agreed we’d both seen that before). Of course not, but before the season began we all knew that was an entirely possible outcome, given the changes made, so you come back to what can be done about it? Inevitably that leads to ‘change the manager’ as the only available recourse, since I’m not aware that if we’d all turned out our pockets we would come up with the investment needed to make a difference.

It’s clear that a good number of fans after Brighton believed that the stage had been reached when Parkinson had to go. I’m not in that camp, on the grounds that it’s not evident to me that he’s lost the dressing room, that the stage has been reached whereby change of any kind would have to be for the better, that sacking him will cost us more money we don’t have, and that I can’t see a better manager (or at least one with a better recent track record) would see us an attractive option. Winning the first two games was with hindsight a false dawn, one which encouraged unrealistic expectations. I think we all believed before the season started that it would take time for a new team to gel and that results would be patchy at best. OK, the season’s one-quarter old now and a humiliating home defeat to move us down into the lower half of the league hardly suggests that things are moving in the right direction. A last-gasp winner that leaves us one point off a play-off spot and three from second at least provides some balance.

I saw a post on the club site asking whether Abbott and Benson are the worst forwards we’ve ever had. Well, they’re not (off the top of my head Endean comes first). I’m far from convinced about Abbott (but hope I’m proved wrong and he has made a difference in some games), but for crying out loud give Benson a chance. Outside the box he’s struggled, but after four first games without a goal it’s now five goals in five games – and five goals which have earned us six points; not one hasn’t mattered in the result. Of course, four of them have been scored away from The Valley, where one in four games – of which we’ve only won one – doesn’t help as regards the popularity stakes. When it comes to matters on the pitch, for me the greater question is why are we conceding so many goals?

Four seasons of horrible failure have not surprisingly left their mark. For many years being a Charlton fan was a source of considerable pride for us all (it still is a source of pride, but the talk now with others centres on where it all went wrong, not the ‘Charlton model’ for punching above your weight). Looking up at the likes of Doncaster and Shrewsbury, let alone (temporarily) Palace and Millwall, and watching a club like Brighton moving swiftly past us hurts badly. But when the crowd have sung ‘we want our Charlton back’ it can surely only apply to attitude and commitment, not some sort of right to be in the top two leagues. We have to earn that right. I don’t take issue with those who believe that Parkinson isn’t the man for the job; but some of the post-Brighton reaction on the club site came across as people believing that we simply deserve more, because of what we’ve been fed through the Curbishley era and have come to expect and because of the awful extent and pace of our decline.

I don’t think Murray’s done Parkinson many favours with some of his statements. Stressing that we have to do everything possible to get back to The Championship and that a top-six finish is expected is all fine and good. But when you’ve just sold every player with a price tag and released just about anyone that could be (for perfectly good reasons) it just struck the wrong note for me. He’s suggested that the squad is now better balanced; indeed it is, but through the loss of most of the quality that was there. This isn’t real criticism over intent and goals, but rather tone and timing. From Parkinson’s perspective, it might sound like ‘I’ve taken away your best players and given you a shoestring with which to build a new team, now go and get me promotion’. The comments may have been intended to galvanise support, but if the chairman expects top-six how are fans expected to react to the Brighton result (especially with the depressing news that Youga isn’t going to return and that Reid is out for a month)? After all, he doesn’t have to appease activist shareholders any more.

Murray has earned our full support and there’s no-one else around willing to fund us (I’d be very surprised if we manage to break even this season), let alone provide the sort of funds to buy us promotion. Parkinson can’t be blamed for our relegation from The Championship and it’s still entirely unclear to me whether we will finish nearer the top or the bottom, or more important that a change of manager would increase the chances of the former. Carlisle certainly doesn’t mean the pressure’s off. But another brace from Benson on Saturday, a much-needed victory at home, and a move into a play-off spot would make for an entirely different mood than last time around. May it come to pass.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Bewitched, Bewildered and Beaten

When you lose 4-0 at home you need a stiff drink or a sense of perspective, or both. With the former in hand let’s try the latter. First up, it wasn’t a debacle. Some may disagree, but we’ve played worse this season and will play worse and win games. Did we deserve to lose? Yes. Did the display amount to a gutless capitulation and justify calls for the manager to be sacked (the first I’ve heard against Parkinson)? No. It turned out bloody badly in the end. In my eyes, the first goal was very important (against a team that has conceded very few away so far) and the second was crucial. After that, the game was up, barring a miracle.

We were up against a team full of confidence and one with a clear instruction on how to play. We know what Poyet has done and what he demands, the question was could we match/better it. They’re not bloody Arsenal after all. They may try to play like them, but scratch the surface and the weaknesses are revealed. We did that a few times in the first 30 minutes, but this is a game – at every level – about margins and doing the basics well (as England recently demonstrated). We didn’t take chances that came our way and made mistakes at the back, which were punished. What does that say about us and them? Well, they look like they’re going places – although the season is long and who know about their squad resources - and the chances are we’re not. We’re still trying to work out how we play and they have it drilled into them. I won’t say good luck to them as I really don’t care. But today did drive home that the promised improvement as players get to know each other is still something we hope for.

The team was a little surprising in that Dailly was kept at right-back, with Francis on the bench, to continue with Fortune and Doherty in central defence, with Reid and Martin taking the wide berths. Benson and Abbott were paired up front. The first 20 minutes were about as good a game as we’re likely to watch this season. Brighton played it around, but not without purpose, while we were, if not matching them in their speed of movement and passing, showing that we had weapons to hurt them. But when it came to those details, the simple things, we often came up short. Crosses weren’t precise (Reid being the main culprit), control sometimes wasn’t good enough. Brighton could have taken the lead early on but were denied by a double save from Elliot, while good work from Martin ended with a delivery that Abbott headed over.

So much seemed to hinge on who would gain an advantage and unfortunately it was them. If their first goal was a training ground set-piece it’s one of the best I’ve seen. From a corner they played it in, out, and by the time they’d pulled us around towards the ball out and in again, to a guy by that time unmarked to score. If they meant it, full marks to them. After that, the margins went against us, thanks in no small part to the referee. Brighton might like to play it around, but they were happy to make cynical challenges when we looked like breaking through. Three or four were made and passed with the ref only talking to them. Not good enough. They were deliberate, stopped us in our tracks, and merited cards (in the end the ref finally gave one for such a challenge, against us, with only one yellow all afternoon).

At the break clearly we were still in it. But we needed the next strike to be in our favour. Instead a mistake by Doherty conceded possession in a very poor position and they danced the ball into the net. That saw heads drop and changes made. Dailly may have had a storming game at full-back against Plymouth, but you just felt for him today when in a classic position he pushed the ball past their guy and had to try to run past him. No chance and no contest. Fortune was withdrawn, with Francis coming on and Dailly moving to the centre, while the disappointing Abbott was replaced by Anyinsah. Not long after Reid was crocked and left, replaced by Wagstaff.

Not having to chase the game, Brighton were happy to play it around and we needed some inspiration to get back into it. It didn’t come. Instead they brought on LuaLua to torment us – and con the ref. He clearly lost control of the ball, which went some yards away from him, and made a meal of being ‘checked’ to win a free kick. Margins again. But the free kick was set up for him to score and put the game to bed. There was just time for him to embarrass Francis and deliver a cross for a fourth.

The final whistle was greeted with boos and calls for Parkinson’s head. I don’t think I’m deluding myself in concluding we were beaten by a better side but that the breaks didn’t go our way at crucial times. I don’t feel like calling for the manager to be sacked, or that today was a disgrace. It showed how far we still have to go and might help to frame expectations for the season, but that’s it. That said, it’s one win in six, against moderate opposition. The next couple of games the pressure is on – you can’t lose by four at home and think it isn’t. Another couple of poor results and the season would turn really sour. I think I’ll naff off to Lyon and hope for more perspective tomorrow.

I’ve rambled on recently about just not knowing what to expect from this season, especially after the two wins at the start raised expectations. I noticed that recently we were still about fifth favourite to get promotion, suggesting that others expect us to improve. Today showed us that against a team enjoying life and confident in how they intend to play we are still a work in progress. Doherty and others talked in terms of needing to improve and generate momentum from around November. I’m ready for that.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Excellent double save to keep the game scoreless and had no chance with any of the goals.

Dailly: 6/10. Poor sod. A cameo at full-back when needs must is fair enough, but it was a mistake to ask him to do it again. Keep him where he belongs.

Jackson: 6/10. Their first ended up being scored in his area, but no obvious problems, no great forward contribution either.

Fortune: 6/10. Nothing daft, but we conceded four. Our problem (to me) is that we have three adequate ‘big’ guys for the centre (Fortune, Doherty, Llera) and only one (Dailly) to play the Bobby Moore role.

Doherty: 5/10. Bad mistake (I think) which led to their second goal, which killed the game. He’s been fine to date, but this one was a big one.

Reid: 6/10. Fans’ favourite, but today his crossing when in good positions was poor. Tried to make things happen, just hope the injury isn’t bad.

Semedo: 6/10. Competitive as ever, but their play meant he was unable to command and we seldom controlled the game.

Racon: 5/10. Didn’t work for him today, at least not going forward. We need and expect more out of him if we are to dominate play.

Martin: 6/10. Good work early on, but seldom featured to good effect in the second half.

Abbott: 5/10. When the delivery from the flanks isn’t good his limitations seem apparent. Didn’t cause them any problems except for the header.

Benson: 5/10. His job is to score goals, which he has done of late. Whether he and Abbott together are the best possible pairing we’ll have to see against lesser opposition.

Subs: Francis (6/10 – taken apart for their fourth goal, but by then who cared?); Anyinsah (5/10 – no discernible impact, but the game was already up when he came on); Wagstaff (5/10 – ditto).

Thursday 14 October 2010

Sort It Out Parky

Outside of match reports and irrelevant ramblings (an all-encompassing sub-set if truth be told), I usually try to find some theme to posts, even if it might be obvious only to me (or any aficianodos of Ronnie Corbett monologues, which used to annoy the crap out of me when young but which now seem like genius). But I don’t know whether its lack of inspiration, lack of time, or some other factor, this time around there’s nothing I can do to link the following disparate thoughts.

Plymouth and Brentford? Only saw the highlights, so can’t comment. But I was struck by a reply posted after a guest report on the latter: Benson ‘just isn’t good enough’. Of course, a brace away to earn us a point makes hindsight a wonderful thing, but even at the time I thought ‘good enough for what?’ We all knew during the close season that we needed a real goalscorer, one guaranteed to top 20 for the season and one that wouldn’t cost us much if anything. Tall order clearly when we’ve gone from Ipswich to Southend when it comes to raiding clubs for their best players. The question really should be was he the best feasible signing and would he be better (and cheaper) than those we let go. I’m assuming he’s cheaper than the likes of McLeod and Dickson – and as they are now on the injured list at Barnet (alongside Basey apparently) and plying their trade in Cyprus respectively, it’s not as if there was a rush for their services.

By his own admission Benson has taken a bit of time to adjust to the move from Dagenham and to the higher division. And the whole team is still learning to play together. His first touch and hold-up play could improve, but he was brought in to score goals and after a slow start now has three under his belt, important strikes at that (they secured three points). A lot depends on him if we are to be in contention for a top six finish and I’ll forgive a great deal of indifferent stuff outside the box if he keeps knocking them in (I see Killer’s making another signing appearance in the club shop and I’m sure he could pass on some tips about focusing on the primary job in hand and not worrying too much about what goes on in the other two-thirds of the pitch).

Brighton? It will make a change to play the table-toppers rather than those propping up the division (and failing to beat them). Perhaps it might induce a different approach on the part of the crowd. The backing the team received in the games against Norwich and Leeds at the tail-end of last season showed the atmosphere that can be generated (albeit there are a few less around these days) when we need the points, put in battling displays, and are up against opposition that we don’t still feel we should be blowing away. They’re three points clear at the top, only defeated once, and have conceded only eight goals in 11 games (and only three in five away). Should be a good encounter and I’m really looking forward to it.

As soon as Saturday’s done I’ll be jetting off to Lyon for a week. Sounds so much more appealing than the thought of surfacing at some truly absurd hour to get over to Gatwick for an easyjet flight. Still, the end-result is very much worth it (this is known as arse-covering as my partner Suzanne could conceivably read this and I’m already having to justify not travelling out on Friday – flights were too expensive, nothing to do with CAFC v Brighton). It seems the jury’s out on whether the following weekend – when the lucky ones will be taking a pleasurable trip down memory lane with the journey up to Carlisle; really should be the last match of the season if we want to ensure promotion – we will drive up to Besancon for Lyon Duchere’s away fixture. Suzanne was actually quite taken with the idea (close enough to Dijon to pick up some decent mustard etc). Whether the enthusiasm wanes as the weekend draws near and the alternative of a lazy day cooking (her – not sexist, I do the same in London) and drinking (OK, I do that here and there) becomes apparent remains to be seen.

Palace? I think we all saw the latest bleatings from Jordan about how much money he lost (not enough) and how badly he was done by the hedge fund that wanted its money back (heroes to a man). The hedge fund in question, Agilo, specialises in distressed companies. Fair enough, but had they the necessary experience in dealings with distressed companies with one-hit wonder orange owners? Trouble is, Jordan actually said some things I agreed with. “For the majority of my tenure, Palace did punch above their weight”. Can’t argue with that as if they were where they belonged they’d be looking up at Welling. Unfortunately these were outweighed by the usual misconceptions. “We got into the Premier League and could have stayed there”. Well, no. You couldn’t. There is a bit of a track record I think you’ll find. “We had good managers”. Perhaps, but you kept sacking them. Jordan’s suggestion that he could return to football inevitably raises the question of just who we might wish him on (perhaps the outfit in Cyprus where Dickson has ended up is a match made in heaven).

Just why The Sun and others felt a need to publish thoughts of Jordan is their problem. Rather more disturbingly, a fellow Addick sent me a link to a version of the interview posted on The Homesdale Online. I don’t know if their account is accurate (and have some reservations about even commenting on the additional drivel), but it contained quotes on us not repeated in the other versions I saw. First off, we can be relieved that Jordan apparently said “the last club that I would buy or be involved in would be Charlton”. He is cited as going on to express his opinion of Murray, the Charlton board, and us - “I don’t like the way their fans conduct themselves in games and I don’t like the way I was physically attacked when I went to Charlton”. Let’s get it straight, any moron if they acted that way deserves to be locked up, along with the Palace fans who attacked Charlton supporters on the train. Yes, we went a bit over the top when we celebrated relegating them; I enjoyed it as much as the next Addick. And yes, we had to take it on the chin (not literally) the season before last when we were on our way down. But our behaviour was born out of the pain of the portacabin years (and for me at least that end-season game effectively drew a line under them). It seems Jordan still can’t comprehend the motivation for, and impact of (financially and otherwise), the ‘groundshare’, repeating that worn-out ridiculous notion that “they should be extremely grateful Palace gave them a ground to play at 15 years ago”. We weren’t given anything, neither do we have the slightest reason to be grateful. Only the truly ignorant might think otherwise.

Finally, one word of sartorial advice for Parky. I know the nights are drawing in and it must get cold being forced to watch matches from the stands, but there simply is no excuse, ever, for wearing a shirt and tie with a jumper.